KATHERINE COLE’S TRAVEL BLACK BOOK

Shop, ski and stroll in Dubai

Ms Katherine Cole extending a hand to a bird of prey at a falcon show in the Arabian Desert.
Ms Katherine Cole extending a hand to a bird of prey at a falcon show in the Arabian Desert.PHOTO: HOTELS.COM

The Middle Eastern city offers wonderful new experiences with each visit

Who: Ms Katherine Cole, regional director of Hotels.com. She looks after the brand's Singapore, Australia and New Zealand markets.

Favourite destination: Dubai

Why: Dubai's convenient location between Europe and Asia lends the city its unique character. I love how the old and new come together. It's amazing to see the juxtaposition of Dubai's Old Town with the modern and futuristic architecture.

The city is a metropolis with amazing shopping centres, some of which are the biggest and most comprehensive in the world.

I've visited Dubai three times - in November 2012, September 2013 and last October.

Each time I'm there, I have wonderful new experiences. The unique and beautiful city has a way of drawing one in and making one fall more in love with it with each visit.

Best places to stay

There is a vast array of premium hotels in Dubai. My favourites include Armani Hotel and Movenpick Hotel Deira.

Armani Hotel (Burj Khalifa, United Arab Emirates, tel: +971-4-888-3888) occupies 11 floors of Dubai's iconic skyscraper and the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. It is also within walking distance of Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping centre.

Room rates start from $578.

Business travellers looking for an enjoyable and convenient stay can consider Movenpick Hotel Deira (Corner of Abu Bakker Al Siddique and Sallahuddin roads, United Arab Emirates, tel: +971-4-444-0111), a five-star business hotel in the heart of the city, near the famous Deira gold and spice souks.

Room rates begin at $126.

If you're looking for a lavish holiday, I'd highly recommend spending a night or two at Atlantis hotel at The Palm (Crescent Road, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, tel: +971-4-426-2000). Prices start from $978.

This five-star resort offers entertainment options for children and adults, including the Aquaventure water theme park and Lost Chambers Aquarium.

Best places to eat

Al Hadheerah desert restaurant is the signature restaurant at Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa (Al Qudra Road, PO Box 8168, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, tel: +971-4-809-6100) and gave me one of the most unforgettable dining experiences in Dubai.

Its rustic ambience - complete with Arabian carpets, sandy paths and Arabian stained-glass lanterns - transports one back in time.

Guests can enjoy a traditional Arabian buffet dinner under the stars and among the sand dunes in the Arabian Desert, while being entertained throughout the night by Tanoura dancers, henna artists and even a horse show and falconry display.

Try its whole lamb - a traditional Emirati dish - and nut baklava - a local dessert. You won't be disappointed. The buffet dinner costs from about 425 dirhams (S$153) a person.

Another place I recommend is Ravi's Restaurant (Shop 245, Al Dhiyafa Rd, Satwa, near Satwa Roundabout, opposite Emirates Co-operative Society, tel: +971-4-331-5353), a popular choice among locals and one of the most highly regarded Pakistani curry houses in the city. Located on one of Dubai's busiest streets, the dining experience comes complete with the tooting horns of nearby traffic.

The food is reasonably priced and the restaurant boasts an extensive range of items on its menu. You must try the chicken tikka (8 dirhams for one serving) and mutton seekh kebabs (16 dirhams each).

Must-visit cafe

The Clinton Street Baking Company (Burj Views, Downtown GF01, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, tel: +971- 4-428-1331) serves a good cup of coffee and organic American fare, such as waffles, pancakes and crab cakes.

Originally from New York, the founders opened their third cafe in Dubai last year to much hype.

I recommend this place for its cosy ambience - a perfect venue for a weekend brunch date. Try its highly acclaimed blueberry pancake (55 dirhams). It's slightly pricey but one of the best I've had. There is a queue, so go early and be prepared to wait.

Best day trip

The desert safari tour is a must-do when you visit Dubai. There are different types of tours and they cost about 160 dirhams each.

Activities include dune-bashing at sunset, camel-riding and sand-boarding, a barbecue dinner as well as a belly-dancing performance around a campfire. This was one of my most memorable experiences in Dubai.

Best places to shop

Dubai is home to some of the best shopping centres. While shopping in Dubai is mostly about the experience and the atmosphere, buying luxury goods here can be relatively inexpensive compared with in other countries.

Check out Dubai Mall (Financial Centre Road, Downtown Dubai, near Burj Khalifa), which has more than 1,200 shops. The mall also hosts the Dubai Aquarium and Discovery Centre, an ice-skating rink and the Sega Republic indoor theme park.

Another mall to visit is Mall of the Emirates (Al Barsha 1, Dubai, United Arab Emirates), which opens daily from 10am to 1am - perfect for midnight shopping. Its biggest attraction is Ski Dubai, an indoor ski resort with slopes of varying steepness.

I didn't get a chance to ski during my previous visits, but it's on my to-do list for my next trip.

Best sightseeing activity

The Bur Dubai Abra Dock is one of the most picturesque spots in Dubai.

Stroll along the dock and take in the sights of the old city, or opt for a short cruise on the traditional wooden Arab boats (also known as Abras) for 1 or 2 dirhams. The cruise will give you a glimpse of the gold and textile souks and various art galleries.

It is also a great way to experience the contrast between old and new Dubai.

Must-get local delicacy

Dates feature prominently in the Middle East and are great souvenirs to bring back for family and friends.

The Bateel stores, in particular, specialise in gourmet dates stuffed with a variety of ingredients, including caramelised pecans and roasted almonds. The dates come in beautiful packages too.

One more tip - buy agwa dates if they are available. They are considered a seasonal delicacy and are usually available towards the end of the year.

You can also find dates at the Deira Spice Souk. The extensive range is a sight to behold. The dates here are reasonably priced - about 38 dirhams for a kilogramme of assorted dates.

If you're unsure which to buy, ask the merchants to explain each variety.

Advice for travellers

Make plans to visit after October. The weather is scorching hot between March and October.

I would also advise travellers not to pack too much for the trip because there are too many things to buy there.

brynasim@sph.com.sg